April 28, 2022
The following is a note from trip leaders, Gina Wither & Emily Spangler:
Greetings and buenos dias from Spain. We’re writing to you from Granada before our departure for Nerja. Nerja marks the beginning of the trip’s “Expedition Phase” wherein everything we do was planned by the students: our transportation, activities, food and lodging. Speaking of those logistical concepts, this GS trip to Spain is giving the kids an accurate look at what real travel can be like for a young adult. They are learning to think about budgets and how much more food a euro can buy in a Carrefoure (grocery store) than at a restaurant. They are experiencing how to make a timeline for travel – walk to the bus station, catch a bus to make it to the train station, and board the bus on time. They are experiencing the rosy side of travel: engaging interactions, beautiful and educational sights, strolling cobblestone streets in the sunshine, and taking part in the vibrancy of a new culture. And they are seeing the “less fun” side of travel: windy mountain roads that make you carsick, rainy weather, a closed bakery when you need some bread. These highs and lows are all a part of travel and our group is managing things admirably. Thank you for sharing your kids with us for this adventure.
Our first night in Madrid, we and 50,000 other Spaniards made our way to the Wanda Stadium to watch Atletico de Madrid play Grenada. Talk about a crowded subway train – these mountain girls were in the city! Walking into the stadium and seeing the pitch filled our bellies with excitement. The oompah band was playing and the crowd blew pterodactyl-sounding whistles when the ref made a controversial call. It was so memorable to attend such a beloved local sporting event. Catcher and Emily kept us informed about what was happening in the game and much popcorn was consumed. The game ended in a tie but we’re pretending we saw Madrid trounce the opponents.
“After three plane rides, two lengthy train rides, six subway experiences consisting of tight crowded cars and Catcher falling on only a few strangers, and a small number of bizerk bus rides our group has come into contact with a lot!” -Maia
Contrasting the raucous soccer match, we found somber time to reflect on the history of Spain, its Roman Catholic monarchy and the time under which Fransisco Franco was the country’s ruler. El Escorial showed the might of King Phillip II, his dedication to Catholicism, and the riches and power of Spain in the 16th and 17th centuries. Following that visit was a trip to the Valley of the Fallen, a 150 meter tall cross sits atop a granite mountain containing an immense basilica that was carved into the mountain. Imposing angel figures, looking like battle-ready warriors, lined the huge space and gazed down upon us as we made our way to the alter and the controversial and former resting place of Franco. He was exhumed in 2019. Entering the colossal, intimidating cave church built by the people Franco oppressed, we felt the history of Spain in a more powerful way than simply reading about it. Our guide, Isabella, talked about remembering the day Franco died, “my mother sobbed, she was a conservative and her family supported Franco; my father cheered, he had lost brothers to the dictator’s regime…”
Also in Madrid we visited the Prado, an art museum that ranks up there with the Louvre and the Met. We strolled past priceless works of art while viewing the works of famous Spanish artists such as Velázquez and Goya. The students marveled at the skillful works of art and were particularly impressed by the use of light in the paintings, as well as how marble could be carved into gauzy shrouds.
We ended our time in Madrid with a great cooking class. Our chef friend, Edwardo, walked us through the market, explaining the importance of Spanish jamón, teaching us about the local produce and the varieties of olives. We stopped at one stall where the girls saw how other cultures eat and use so much more of an animal than we typically do in the U.S.: hooves, brains, intestines, oh my! Ella Stroock worked hard to convince the butcher she should be able to cleave the cow leg and our vegetarian, Eliza kept a sizeable distance!
“When Gina and Emily announced we would be going to a cooking class in Madrid I was so excited. I love to bake and cook whenever I get the change at home so I knew being able to bring back Spanish recipes would be a gift in itself.” -Presely Hofland
Making our way farther south, we spent one day in Córdoba to see La Mezquita. This was a favorite of Eliana and Tinsley, who liked the juxtaposition of the architecture. It is a former Visigothic church which was turned into a huge mosque by the Moors of the 8th century. After the Spanish Reconquista, the Christians built a huge Cathedral right up out of the center of the mosque. Nowhere else in the world can you see the differing architectures of Islam and Christianity so intimately intertwined. Our guidebook encouraged us to see the contrasting building styles of the two religions: horizontal versus vertical, light versus dark, simple versus ornate, and intimate versus imposing.
After Cordoba we traveled to Granada. Our cozy hostel in the city center was well placed for lots of little shopping excursions and we discovered our new favorite gelato shop! While in Granada we visited the awe inspiring Alhambra. There were many moments when our jaws dropped. This massive palace and grounds were once the home of Islamic royalty. Its intricate detail, kaleidoscope of geometric shapes, and babbling water features allowed us to experience the grandeur and tranquility of this place. Granada was also the starting point of our trek in the majestic Sierra Nevada mountains. Our guide José Luis joined us for the cliff edge bus ride up to Capeleira where we started our hike. 3000 vertical feet later, our refuge was a welcome sight and we jovially unpacked our gear into our small bunk bed, dorm room. We spent two nice days hiking, playing games, eating good food, breathing clean mountain air, and people watching as trekkers from all parts of the planet stopped in to grab some food or rest as they traversed the mountains.
The group is excited to head to Nerja and relax after our big mountain adventure. Tomorrow is Eliana’s birthday and we’ve found a local cafe run by two British expats that make a mean Victoria Sponge cake. The students are doing well and learning much as we draw our trip to a close. We are happy to be coming home soon but sad to leave this wonderful country.